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New Tampa resident won't let up in fight against bridge

A bridge into Tampa Palms would bring a “parade of horribles,” resident Warren Dixon, 64, says. “Nobody would choose to walk, jog, ride their bicycles or push a baby carriage on Bruce B. Downs.”

STEPHEN J. CODDINGTON | Times

A bridge into Tampa Palms would bring a “parade of horribles,” resident Warren Dixon, 64, says. “Nobody would choose to walk, jog, ride their bicycles or push a baby carriage on Bruce B. Downs.”

TAMPA PALMS — Warren Dixon starts his walks at 5 a.m. so he can go with his wife, a defense consultant who works long hours.

Dixon doesn't work anymore, and maybe that's the problem. At 64, the retired combat pilot and military lawyer is a bureaucrat's nightmare. He has time, money, a law degree — and an issue.

The city government is poised to build a bridge over a highway, carrying traffic into the stately community of Tampa Palms.

Drivers will come from as far as Pasco County. Knowing the gridlocked Bruce B. Downs Boulevard awaits, they will find their way over Interstate 75 to Commerce Park Boulevard until they reach the road Dixon can see from his lanai.

That's Tampa Palms Boulevard — Dixon's walking route.

• • •

Planners use words like grid and connectivity to explain the need for newer, arguably better transportation routes. In New Tampa, officials say the burden is especially great because growth management laws meant to limit sprawl give developers more freedom in older sections of the city.

New Tampa must follow concurrency, which prevents new development from overwhelming existing government services. "And so, when a development comes into being, the transportation requirements are more onerous up here," said Steve Daignault, Tampa's public works administrator.

Tampa Palms, which is one of New Tampa's oldest developments and has homes priced at $1 million, sits in the path of the 1990s building boom. State and regional agencies approved a host of neighborhoods assuming the bridge would be built, Daignault said.

But, in voluminous papers and e-mails, Dixon asks why.

City officials had hoped for an east-west highway connector to Interstate 275, which might have taken some of the bridge traffic. Using a software expression, Dixon calls it "a vaporware road."

Having collected impact fees and needing to satisfy concurrency, officials must do something. In Dixon's view, they are covering their tracks.

In one paper, he asserts that the city is using Tampa Palms Boulevard as a substitute for the east-west highway "because functionaries in the city government, during the time of the approval of the 40-plus subdivisions, did not do their job." He accuses them of "malfeasance in office."

Daignault says it would be unfair to compare the bridge to the east-west highway: One was always written into city plans, the other never received impact-fee money and wasn't a sure thing. Nor does he agree that the east-west road would reduce bridge traffic, as it would pick up a different population of drivers.

The city's position is simple, he said: New Tampa needs a road network, and even Tampa Palms can't stand in the way.

"I'm not a lawyer," said Daignault. "I can tell you that whenever a project is built, the people in the surrounding areas are affected. … It is a city road network that we certainly want to try to provide the maximum use for all of the folks."

Differing agendas

Even among Tampa Palms homeowners angry about the road system, Dixon stands out.

Others have more or less accepted the bridge. They are focusing instead on lower Bruce B. Downs Boulevard near Bearss Avenue, where it bottlenecks.

But Dixon won't let up.

"It's often very useful to have an activist in the community, but we don't control him," said Bill Edwards, president of the Tampa Palms Owners Association.

"Some people would wail and wring their hands and say 'woe is me,' " Community Development District consultant Maggie Wilson said. "Warren says, 'How did it happen, what happened and how am I going to fix it?' "

Edwards and Wilson say fighting the county, which controls Bruce B. Downs Boulevard, makes more practical sense than taking city leaders to task. The county is widening the northern portion, near Pasco County, ahead of the southern leg. That plan will only worsen the bottleneck, they say.

But all agree that the bridge by itself will hurt Tampa Palms.

Dixon predicts a "parade of horribles" affecting apartment dwellers, businesses, schools and parks. "Nobody would choose to walk, jog, ride their bicycles or push a baby carriage on Bruce B. Downs," he said. "And that is essentially what we will have."

A matter of fairness

Dixon is careful to note that the taxing district and homeowners association have their own attorneys.

But he'll help out if needed. And if push comes to shove, "I can always represent my own interests. My wife and I have gone over our finances. We can afford to do that."

He can't get past what he sees as unfairness. It's like this: The city committed to the bridge in agreements with developers north of Tampa Palms, such as West Meadows, yet Tampa Palms will shoulder the greatest share of the burden.

Disagreements arise when city leaders point out that Tampa Palms' developers also paid into the roads network.

Dixon digs through decades-old documents until he finds the word "may," suggesting the city doesn't have to build the bridge, or a traffic count that he says was conducted on a Sunday. (Not true, the county says.)

"Don't you love the machinations?" Dixon asks. "Can't you understand why I am convinced the city is willfully lying?"

He wants the city to widen more of Cross Creek Boulevard, closer to the newer homes. Otherwise, "the negative impact does not fall on West Meadows, it falls on Tampa Palms."

And on his wallet. He and his wife bought their home at the peak of the housing bubble. They paid $60,000 extra, he said, for the rear view of the boulevard.

A federal wish list

Tampa Palms leaders have asked all homeowners to join the campaign to fix southern Bruce B. Downs. They are disappointed that a request for federal infrastructure dollars didn't include southern Bruce B. Downs.

The explanation from county public works spokesman Steve Valdez: The northern part costs a third of the southern portion — $35 million compared to $104 million. The county didn't have enough local matching money to address the southern section.

Still, there are signs officials are paying attention to the outcry from Tampa Palms.

Daignault has assured Tampa Palms leaders that the city will try to lessen the impact on Tampa Palms Boulevard by using speed control devices, and it might delay the bridge until more of Bruce B. Downs is widened.

In county offices, "we hear their concerns," Valdez said. Officials are considering whether they can widen that stretch of road to six lanes instead of eight to speed things up, he said. "We are looking at options."

Marlene Sokol can be reached at sokol@sptimes.com or (813) 269-5307.

New Tampa resident won't let up in fight against bridge 02/08/09 [Last modified: Sunday, February 8, 2009 10:33pm]
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